Doctors Optimistic About Condition of Jewish Congresswoman After Shooting

Doctors say Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition but able to follow simple commands, such as holding up two fingers when asked.

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Doctors were cautiously optimistic on Sunday about the condition of United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after a man shot her in the head and killed six people at a public event in Arizona.

The rampage in Tucson on Saturday fueled debate about extreme political rhetoric in America after an acrimonious campaign for congressional elections last November.

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Credit: Reuters

The 22-year-old suspect was to face formal criminal charges in federal court on Sunday as investigators sought a motive and looked for a possible accomplice.

"It appears that the target was the congresswoman," FBI Director Robert Mueller told a news conference.

He said public officials should be on alert but there was no information to suggest a specific threat against them.

Doctors said Giffords, a 40-year-old Democratic lawmaker, was in critical condition but was able to follow simple commands, such as holding up two fingers when asked. A single bullet traveled the length of her brain on the left side.

But given the devastating nature of the wound, doctors at University Medical Center in Tucson said they were uncertain about the extent of brain damage Giffords had suffered.

The bullet hit an area of the brain that controls speech functions and the wound will lead to some degeneration of brain cells, they said. Giffords has been put into a pharmaceutical coma but was being woken frequently to check her progress.

"There are obvious areas of our brain that are less tolerant to intrusion," said Dr. Michael Lemole. "I don't want to go down the speculation road but at the same time we're
cautiously optimistic."

The suspect, identified as Jared Lee Loughner, opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol at point-blank range outside a supermarket, killing six people including U.S. federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl. Fourteen people were wounded.

Arizona police released a photo of another man sought for questioning who was seen at the shopping center. He is white and thought to be 40 to 50 years old.

The violence shocked politicians in Washington, where Congress postponed a vote on healthcare reform later this week. Some Democrats were quick to say a shrill climate of political vitriol might have played a role.



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